Column: Strengthening And Protecting Medicare


By:  Bill Johnson
Date: June 3, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

There are many myths and accusations going around about plans to reform Medicare, so I'd like to set the record straight. I want to help seniors retain their Medicare healthcare benefits and receive the high quality health care they deserve. But, most independent healthcare experts agree that Medicare will go broke in about 10 years. In order to strengthen Medicare, protect it for current seniors, and preserve it to ensure its viability for future generations, we should make some common-sense reforms.

Currently, about 40 million seniors participate in Medicare along with roughly eight million disabled Americans. In other words, one in eight Americans are receiving Medicare benefits. The federal government spent $516 billion providing Medicare benefits last year, and Medicare is projected to grow more than 7 percent in the next decade. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Medicare Trust Fund will be empty by 2020.

And, on top of this, there are about 10,000 "Baby Boomers" joining the Medicare rolls every day. This means Medicare will have to absorb nearly 80 million new seniors over the next 20 years.

The average American household spends 50 times as much on health care today than was spent in 1960. In 1960, the average household healthcare spending was $520 per year; today, it exceeds $25,000. Healthcare spending today is a greater share of the U.S. economy: in 1960, it was 5.6 percent of the economy; today, it is 17.6 percent.

Right now, Medicare reimburses providers the same amount for services regardless of the quality of care. This formula provides little to no incentive to improve quality and eliminates providers having to compete for business.

Clearly, the current Medicare model is not sustainable for the long term. We need common-sense reforms so Medicare can provide seniors with quality health care at a price we can afford. The reform plan I support saves Medicare by ensuring no changes for current seniors or those near retirement, and it strengthens Medicare with true choice and competition for future generations.

The reform plan that I support does not make any changes for seniors who are 55 or older. For those 54 and younger, they'll receive financial support to help pay for coverage they choose from a list of providers who are competing for their business. Forcing health providers to compete for patients would lead to higher quality of care at lower costs. Lower income seniors would receive more assistance while wealthier seniors would receive less.

The plan puts consumers -- not bureaucrats -- in charge of personal health decisions. It's a difference in philosophy that affects real life decisions: who is better able to decide healthcare decisions? I believe individuals can make better decisions in a market-based system that encourages competition rather than a government monopoly ruled by unelected bureaucrats.

Contrary to what some have said about the Republican Medicare reform plan, it does not shift costs to seniors. It uses true choice and competition to lower costs without sacrificing quality, guarantees coverage and protects all seniors from being denied the care they need.

What is the Democrats' plan for Medicare? Their plan is the new healthcare law that I've been fighting to defund and repeal. Their plan raids Medicare to fund the President's new health-care law and rations Medicare, empowering unelected bureaucrats to decide which treatments won't be covered.

The President's plan would put a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of deciding how much to reimburse providers and what services are allowed under the program. We're already seeing doctors limiting the number of Medicare patients they treat, and one out of eight doctors already refuse to accept new Medicare patients. But the President's plan could lead to non-Medicare patients being charged more for services. It could also lead to longer waiting lists for seniors to get care and even being denied care completely.

Medicare is too important a program for us to shirk from our responsibility to make sure it remains strong for seniors today and tomorrow. The popular Medicare Advantage program, which benefits 26,000 seniors in eastern and southeastern Ohio, has already been targeted by President Obama under his misguided healthcare law. I am committed to ensure seniors have health security, and I look forward to implementing common-sense reforms that will strengthen and preserve Medicare.

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